Army linebacker Kalib Fortner scored on a fourth-quarter strip sack then helped stuff Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai inches from the end zone with three seconds left to lead the Black Knights to a 17-11 decision over the Midshipmen on Saturday and win the 124th meeting of the nation's oldest service academies.
"Why's it always got to be like that?" asked Army coach Jeff Monken, whose team won last year's matchup in double overtime. "It is. It's always like that. We had a 14-point lead, and with one second to go, they're standing there knocking on the door with a chance to tie the game. Unreal."
Bryson Daily ran for 84 yards and threw Army's first touchdown pass against Navy since 2015 to help the Black Knights claim the much-coveted bragging rights for the sixth time in eight tries. Kanye Udoh ran for 88 yards for Army, which also claimed the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy that goes to the team with the best record in head-to-head matchups against other service academies. (Army upset then-No. 17 Air Force last month.)
Lavatai came off the bench in the second quarter. He rushed for 74 yards and completed 16 of 26 passes for 176 yards, which was the most passing yards for a Navy quarterback against Army since 2010. Midshipmen wide receiver Jayden Umbarger caught six passes for 75 yards, including a touchdown that made it 17-9 with 2:47 left.
"This game, in the grand scheme of things, is about more than football," Navy coach Brian Newberry said. "It's about celebrating some of the finest young men in the country on the field and then celebrating and recognizing all those that have dedicated their life to service, that have served and are serving your country. Shining a light on them, celebrating them and showing gratitude for their sacrifice and their commitment. That's what it's all about.
"I think, at the end of the day, whoever was in the stands was proud of what they saw these young men do."
The matchup of patriots at the New England Patriots' home brought an injection of pomp and excitement to Gillette Stadium, where the six-time Super Bowl champions have stumbled to a 3-10 record -- getting shut out twice at home in a season for the first time in franchise history. New England is on pace for the worst campaign in Bill Belichick's three decades as an NFL head coach, stripping some of the shine off the devoted Navy man who is in the discussion for the greatest of all time.
Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, while his father spent 34 years as a Navy assistant coach, spoke to the Midshipmen on Friday night and pulled on a Roger Staubach-era Navy helmet for a TV pregame show to predict the winner.
It wasn't enough.
"I know Belichick has a rich history with Navy. I know his dad coached there," Army linebacker Leo Lowin said. "I know Boston's near the ocean. But it's good to get an Army win here."
The Black Knights opened a 17-3 lead with less than five minutes to play before Lavatai drove Navy for one score then took the Midshipmen to the Army 6-yard line in the final minute. He threw two incompletions before hitting Alex Tecza, who was tackled in bounds at the 2.
With no timeouts and no opportunity to spike the ball -- it was fourth down -- Navy scrambled to line up and get the play off. Lavatai surged forward as his whole team pushed, ahead of him and behind, but Army held on; replay confirmed that the ball never crossed the goal line.
To kill the remaining three seconds, Daily took a shotgun snap, hesitated and stepped out of the end zone for an intentional safety.
Cadets began to storm the field before being sent back for another review to see if time had expired. The confirmation from the booth set off another wave of Army fans onto the field.
"It definitely would have been nice to have more of a stress-free game. But it speaks to the Army-Navy rivalry: They don't quit; we don't quit," Lowin said. "I'm just so proud to be a part of this team and say I was an Army football player."
It was just the second time since 1926 that America's Game had left the mid-Atlantic region and the first trip to Massachusetts, where George Washington took command of the Continental Army and where the USS Constitution -- the world's oldest commissioned naval warship -- is docked.
Organizers squeezed in a weekend of activities at historic sites in the area, including a pep rally and debate at Faneuil Hall, a ceremony to mark the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and a tug-of-war at the Old North Bridge in Concord, the location of the "shot heard round the world."
Nearly 100 buses carried students from Annapolis and West Point, New York, to Foxborough, where they took the field in their dress grays and blues in a pregame "march-on of the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets." Ultramarathon relay teams ran game balls from their campuses, and parachute teams dropped onto the 50-yard line. New recruits were sworn in during a third-quarter timeout.
Representatives of the two academies came to midfield for the coin toss. The Army cadets spelled out "EAT SQUID" in yellow tape on their gray overcoats; Navy countered with "NUKE ARMY."
Wearing gold uniforms that paid tribute to the Dogface Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, Army took a 10-0 lead against a Navy team that had zero pass completions at the half. Lavatai replaced starter Xavier Arline in the second quarter and drove Navy into field goal position early in the fourth to make it 10-3.
But with about five minutes left, Fortner punched the ball out, picked it up on one bounce and scampered 44 yards for a touchdown that gave Army a 17-3 lead.
"I hit the ball. It's almost kind of like I planned it, the way it bounced in my hands, and I just started running. And I saw on the jumbotron sea of gold jerseys behind me," Fortner said. "It was just a surreal moment."